Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8056


Senator BROWN (1:00 AM) —as amended, by leave—I move Green amendments (1) to (4) on sheet 2795:

(1) Schedule 1, item 33, page 8 (line 15), omit paragraph (j), substitute:

(j) plantation wood waste being wood waste from plantations which are on land, the major part of which, in 1990, was not covered with native vegetation and excludes native forest residue;

(2) Schedule 1, item 33, page 8 (line 28), at the end of subsection (2), add:

; (c) native forest residue which includes native wood waste.

(3) Schedule 1, item 33, page 8 (after line 28), after subsection (2):

(2A) Paragraphs 1(j) and (2)(c) cease to have effect 2 years after they commence.

(4) Schedule 1, page 9 (after line 6), after item 33, insert:

33A After section 17

Insert:

17A Review of the use of native forest residue which includes native wood waste as an eligible renewable energy source

(1) Immediately on the commencement of this Act, the Minister must cause an independent review to be undertaken of the implications of the use of native forest residue which includes native wood waste as an eligible renewable energy source.

(2) The review must include, but is not limited to, an assessment of the implications of such use on:

(a) net greenhouse emissions; and

(b) biodiversity; and

(c) the level of biomass extraction under Regional Forest Agreements; and

(d) the plantation industry.

(3) The review must be undertaken by a panel of 3 persons chosen by the Minister, including:

(a) one person representing environmental groups;

(b) one person representing the renewable energy industry;

(c) one person representing the Minister.

(4) The review panel must complete its review and give a written report of the review to the Minister within 12 months after the commencement of the review.

(5) The Minister must table a copy of the report of the review in each House of the Parliament as soon as possible after it is received.

The Minister for Environment and Heritage said in his second reading speech that the rest of the world is copying the legislation. Could he inform the committee just who has copied this legislation? That is my first question. Secondly, the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation said that this is simply an administrative bill fixing up a few errors that the Senate made. Let us be quite clear that those of us who bring legislation into this place are responsible for it. It is the errors of the government—it is the errors of Senator Hill, the former and much failed Minister for the Environment and Heritage—that allowed the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 to have the shortcomings which we are dealing with tonight. The Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation said that this bill was dealt with late at night two years ago—and here we are dealing with it again late at night. That is entirely the government's failure. This legislation should not be here at one o'clock in the morning. It should have been dealt with much earlier, but I reckon that it has been left as part of a grab bag simply because the government has no interest of any consequence in renewable energy. So do not let the government blame the Senate for its own administrative shortcomings.

The Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation also said that people in the industry had told him that the targets being mooted in amendments before the chamber—that is, five to 10 per cent of new energy to come from renewable energy—are simply not achievable. I ask the minister who in the industry has told him that. It is not good enough just to say that, because that is not what we are hearing at all. We hear people in the renewable energy industry saying not only that the targets of five to 10 per cent are well within reach but also that they are essential if we are going to tackle global warming; so I ask the minister to back up his statements by naming his sources. I also ask the minister what has been the advice of the Chief Scientist as far as this legislation is concerned. The minister said that the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act might fail if it is not amended by this bill. What has been the advice of the Chief Scientist to the government on renewable energy? What degree of future growth in renewable energy has the Chief Scientist said is possible in Australia? Is he one of the people who have said that the targets of five to 10 per cent being looked at by the Democrats, the Greens and the Labor Party here tonight are not achievable? If the minister does not answer those questions—and I note that he is talking to other members in the chamber at the moment—I will ask them again until we do get an answer.

The amendments the Australian Greens are proposing would bring back into this legislation the exemption from so-called renewable energy production of the burning of native forest residue. Under the list of eligible renewable energy sources at page 8 of the legislation, item (j) is wood waste. This quite clearly includes native wood waste. In other words, it includes the native forests being burnt in furnaces in order to be converted into electricity classified as `renewable energy' when it patently is not. Those forests and the ecosystems that are destroyed in this process are not renewable. They are not sustainable—they are destroyed by that process. The Greens amendment would remove that category from that list. Amendment (4) would also do that with a review of the use of native forest residue, which includes native wood waste as an eligible renewable energy source. The amendment would mean that, immediately after the act was brought into law, the minister would have an independent review undertaken into the implications of the use of burning native forests as a renewable energy source.

Mr Temporary Chairman Ferguson, you will know that Forestry Tasmania, for example, plans three forest furnaces: in the south, at Southwood near Judbury; in the north-west of Tasmania at Smithton; and in the north-east, near Scottsdale. Each year, these would burn hundreds of thousands of tonnes of native forest wood and, with it, the habitat of a whole range of native forest wildlife to produce electricity. We understand that, in the main, the aim is to sell that to the mainland through Basslink to help fire the 100,000 new air conditioners a year being put into place in Melbourne. The problem is that it will be sold as green or renewable energy on the Melbourne market to many people who would be horrified to know that that energy is coming from the destruction of Tasmania's wild native eucalypts and rainforest.

The review that the Greens are proposing would include, but not be limited to, an assessment of the implications of the use of native forest residues on net greenhouse emissions, biodiversity and the level of biomass extraction under regional forest agreements and the plantation industry. The review would need to be undertaken by a panel of three independent persons. That is important, because it is quite different from the review forthcoming under the existing legislation, which is chosen by the government. These persons would be chosen by the minister but would include one person representing environmental groups, another representing the renewable energy industry and a third representing the minister. The review panel would complete its review and give a written report on the review within 12 months, and the minister would have to table that review in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.

What is important here is that that review, and the amendments that the Greens are putting forward, are in line with the Labor Party's public commitment to the Greens during the last national election campaign. In a letter to me on 2 November last year, Geoff Walsh, the Labor Party's national campaign director stated:

Dear Senator Brown,

After consulting with the shadow minister for the environment about policies on the environment, the ALP intends to announce the following policy:

Labor will implement an immediate moratorium, via regulation or legislation, on the use of native forest residues as an eligible renewable energy source and a mandatory renewable energy target, pending the findings of an independent review of the implications of such use.

That is absolutely in line with the amendments. He continued:

The review will include an assessment of the implications for net greenhouse emissions, biodiversity, the level of biomass extraction under the RFA agreements and the plantation industry.

That is absolutely in line with these amendments. He then said:

If the review finds that use of native forest residue will have a significant adverse impact on forest biodiversity and increased net greenhouse emissions will lead to an unsustainable increase in biomass extraction from native forest, then Labor will permanently remove native forest as an eligible fuel resource. The review is not intended to meet the requirements for a review under the Renewable Energy Electricity Act.

In other words, Labor explicitly committed itself to a separate review to the one under this act. The letter continued:

In establishing the review, a Labor government—

it moves to a Labor government then being elected—

as a consideration will consult with the state and territory governments and other stakeholders on any suggestions they may have regarding that panel and the time for a review.

That component of the election did not occur. We now have the position where Labor is being tested on that commitment to the Greens. We have here amendments which exactly comply with that commitment from Geoff Walsh and it was reiterated in public by the then leader, the Hon. Kim Beazley, a couple of days later. So I expect that we will have Labor's support on this. These amendments ought to be passed by this committee.